Jakarta. For the sixth year, Art Basel Hong Kong will bridge art scenes of Asia with the rest of the world at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on March 29-31.
Founded in Basel, Switzerland, in 1970, the event initially showcased only European artworks. It expanded to Miami Beach in 2002 and welcomed aboard American art. Its Hong Kong sister fair was launched in 2012 to give room to Asian artists as well.
Art Basel Asia director Adeline Ooi told the Jakarta Globe earlier this month that Hong Kong was chosen because of its strategic location and reputation as "the gateway to Asia."
"It is 3.5 hours away from Tokyo, Seoul or Singapore. As a geographical hub it is what it is. As a cultural hub it's a perfect platform for Asia. It's a place people would like to come to," she said.
The upcoming show boasts 248 leading galleries from 32 countries, with works ranging from masterpieces of the early 20th century to the most recent by both established and emerging artists. Half of the participating galleries are from Asia and the Pacific, while the other half come from the rest of the world.
A lineup of prominent returning galleries will be joined by 28 first-time exhibitors. Ooi noted that for the first time there will be a gallery from Iran — Dastan's Basement from Tehran.
There will also be nine galleries from India.
In addition, 14 premier galleries from the Americas and Europe will make their debut, including Tanya Bonakdar Gallery and Two Palms from the United States, The Modern Institute from the United Kingdom and Barbara Wien from Germany.
"It's a bridge for the east and west. But in a deeper, more meaningful way, it's also a bridge for all of us in Asia. If you think about it, Asia is such a vast territory. We don't see each other very often in terms of meeting points. We don't get together very often as a whole region. We're divided by many things: languages, religions, histories. For example, India may not always communicate with China. It's just so huge," Ooi said.
She added that the overall content, and the content from Asia in particular, has grown stronger and become more profound.
"We're seeing more young galleries coming up. We're seeing galleries that have been doing more and better, becoming stronger," said the Malaysian-born director.
Ooi added that they decided not to work with galleries that do not represent artists.
"If you're a gallery that just buys to sell [artworks] to others, then you're not the kind of gallery we want to work with. We want to work with galleries that have a strong relationship with artists, because we believe in supporting the whole ecosystem of art production."
What to Expect
Art Basel Hong Kong is divided into several sectors. "Galleries," the main one, will present the highest quality paintings, sculptures, drawings, installations, photography, videos by 196 leading international exhibitors.
The second sector, "Insights," will feature presentations by artists representing 28 galleries from Asia and the Pacific that focus on the region's artistic traditions.
Indian artist Vivek Vilasini from Sakshi Gallery will present "City — Fifth Investigation," comprising 31 translucent rice paper sheets that were exposed to dust and air pollution in New Delhi, to address the climate change issue.
Turkey's Ziberman Gallery will present Pakistani artist Aisha Khalid's intricate Islamic geometric motifs containing themes of gender and domesticity.
Visitors will also be invited to explore female identity through vintage photographs by Japanese artist Yurie Nagashima, and explore the politics of Maori-Pakeha relations in the artworks by Colin McCahon from New Zealand.
The third sector, "Discoveries," will feature solo shows by emerging artists from 25 galleries. One of the highlights is Faisal Habibi from Indonesia's ROH Projects.
ROH Projects was founded in 2012, and has been present at Art Basel Hong Kong since 2014. In previous years, it represented Aditya Novali, Wiyoga Muhardanto, Bagus Pandega and Syaiful Garibaldi.
Ooi, who previously served as Art Basel's VIP relations manager for Southeast Asia, praised Indonesia's thriving art scene. According to her, it is able to stand shoulder to shoulder with other art scenes, not only because Indonesian artists are talented, but also since they are committed to non-profit and educational work.
"Think about what they're doing in Yogyakarta and Bandung, where art spaces are founded by artists," she said, giving as examples Putu Suntawijaya's Sangkring Art Space in Yogyakarta and Sunaryo's Selasar Seni Sunaryo in Bandung, and those designed by architect Eko Prawoto, including Cemeti Art House and Kedai Kebun Forum.
How does Art Basel measure its success? It does not document how much the galleries make individually, nor does it take commissions from their sales.
The answer is in the number of returning galleries.
"We pride ourselves in what we call the participation rate. That is how we judge our level of success. For example the Hong Kong show has about 95 percent, meaning that out of 240 galleries we can be sure 190 will come back," Ooi said.
Attendance is also an important factor. The number of visitors keeps growing, with 70,000 in 2016 and almost 80,000 this year.
Apart from the main sectors, visitors can benefit from the fair's accompanying programs such as screenings and talks featuring industry experts.
"The show is very meaningful. It really is one of the few platforms that show great Asian art. Nowhere else will you see this many Asian galleries and artists. And this is art of the highest level," Ooi said.